Many courtiers at the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha were scandalized by the groom’s father’s blatant attempt to seduce virtually all of the Queen’s bridesmaids. Those among them who were already aware of Ernest l, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’s conjugal exploits, however, probably would’ve been shocked had he not tried to seduce them; for Queen Victoria’s new father-in-law possessed one of the worst personal reputations of any European prince of his day. Not only did he openly cheat on Prince Albert’s much younger mother with mistresses and prostitutes when he felt his wife had become too old, then hypocritically divorce and banish her when she was caught having an affair, but when one of his former teenage amours and mother of one among his numerous bastards refused to keep quiet about how he had abducted, corrupted and abandoned her and their son, Duke Ernest attempted to have the both of them murdered.
In 1817 his mother, the Duchess Augusta, arranged for the 33 year old Ernest to marry his 16 year old cousin, Princess Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg. After having birthed two sons, Princes Ernest jr. and Albert, Duke Ernest decided his new wife, at 20, had grown too old and matronly for her husband’s sexual tastes and he resumed his premarital habit of openly sleeping with prostitutes. Having decided what was good for the goose was certainly feasible for the gander, Louisa soon engaged in her own affair with an army officer. Once her husband found out about this in 1824, he did what it appears most pre-20th century princes did under the circumstances: he divorced his wife, banished her from his court, and forbade her from ever seeing her children again. Louisa remarried, but unfortunately died of cancer at 30 in Paris in 1831. Duke Ernest remarried the next year; this time to a teenage niece named Mary.
The Duke of Saxe-Coburg’s already dismal reputation reached a new low when one of his former teenage mistresses, and mother of one of his illegitimate children, became a famous actress in Paris and began regaling suitors with stories concerning her former minor royal sugar daddy.
According to author Karl Shaw in Royal Babylon, The Alarming History of European Royalty, Ernest seduced Pauline Panam, later known by the stage name “La Belle Grecque”, in Paris when she was 16. He then smuggled his underage mistress to his duchy disguised as a boy. He kept her in a safe house where he visited her regularly, at least until she gave birth to a son a year later. He soon grew tired of Pauline, and sent both his ingenue and their bijou packing. Once she became a famous actress back in Paris, the whole of royal Europe became aware of her plight at the hands of the rakish old Duke because she never tired of soliciting sympathy by revealing it. Ernest first devised a plan to silence Pauline by kidnapping their son, another little Ernest, and holding him hostage. He then decided a better solution would be to have them both murdered in a fake carriage accident. Neither plan worked, and Mademoiselle Panam and little Ernest survived to tell their sob story another day.
Duke Ernest would live just long enough to see his oldest grandson, the future King Edward Vll, born before dying at 60 in 1844. Charles Greville writes in his diary that upon the birth of the Prince of Wales his father expressed fears that the boy would grow up to be as dissolute as his maternal uncles. One can only marvel at the hypocrisy and short sightedness of Prince Albert’s concern over the impact his son’s Hanoverian heritage would have on his character, while completely ignoring the far more direct influence the boy’s paternal grandfather’s dissolute legacy might have. Of course, the Prince Consort’s fears were well founded; for Edward Vll became the most whorish king British history has ever known, and a worthy successor to his combined, and equally dissolute, Hanover and Coburg heritage!